14 new areas of law set for reform – Law Commission

Surrogacy, residential leasehold, driverless cars and smart contracts are all to be reviewed by the Law Commission.

These are just some of the 14 new project areas unveiled today as part of its 13th Programme of Law Reform, whittled down from a record 220 individual project ideas in the responses to its public consultation.

The Commission has focused on reforms which will reduce unfairness for the citizen and those which will help to enhance the UK’s competitiveness internationally following our exit from the European Union.

Working with experts and the public, the independent legal body will strive to make sure the law is modern, simple and fair as it makes its recommendations for reform.

Law Commission Chair and Court of Appeal judge Sir David Bean said:

“Our 13th Programme of Law Reform attracted unprecedented interest across a broad range of areas. The Commission has now refined these ideas into what I believe is a highly relevant and important series of law reform projects.

“We want to help tackle injustices by making the law simpler, clearer and fit for the future.

“We will also be making sure the law supports cutting edge technical innovation such as automated vehicles and smart contracts.

“Although we are operating in uncertain times, I am confident that our independence and ability to build consensus will help ensure that Parliament can take forward law reform in these areas.”

13th Programme – the most innovative yet

Under the Law Commissions Act 1965 the Law Commission is required to submit Programmes of law reform to the Lord Chancellor. Since then, every three or four years the legal body has set out the areas it intends to work on for the next few years.

In July 2016 the 13th Programme consultation was launched to seek the public’s views on the issues most in need of reform. The consultation received the largest ever volume of responses with over 1,300 submissions covering 220 different topics.

Now the Commissioners – public appointees independent of Government – have chosen 14 topics for their new Programme. All have an acknowledgement from Government that there is a serious intention to reform the law in the relevant area.

The projects in the 13th Programme of Law Reform are:

  • A Modern Framework for Disposing of the Dead
  • Administrative Review
  • Automated Vehicles
  • Electronic Signatures
  • Employment Law Hearing Structures
  • Intermediated Securities
  • Modernising Trust Law for a Global Britain
  • Museum Collections
  • Registered Land and Chancel Repair Liability
  • Residential Leasehold
  • Simplifying the Immigration Rules
  • Smart Contracts
  • Surrogacy
  • Unfair Terms in Residential Leasehold

The Commission will also continue its ongoing work on 12th Programme of Law Reform and referral projects including the high-profile areas of misconduct in public office and search warrants.

How we pick projects

Decisions about whether to include a subject in a programme of reform are taken by the five Commissioners and are based on:

  • the extent to which the law is unsatisfactory (for example, unfair, unduly complex, inaccessible or outdated), and the potential benefits of reform.
  • whether the independent, non-political Commission is the most suitable body to conduct the project.
  • whether the necessary resources are available to enable the project to be carried out effectively.

The Law Commission’s Protocol with Government, agreed in 2010,  means that it can only take on projects where there is a “serious intention” on the part of Government to reform the law.

The projects selected for the 13th Programme are designed to address a wide range of issues. Broadly the Programme aims to:

  • boost Global Britain and help enhance the UK’s competitiveness as we leave the EU – smart contracts, electronic signatures; automated vehicles; intermediated securities; and modernising trust law.
  • improve the way in which the law works for the citizen or businesses – surrogacy; residential leasehold; unfair terms in residential leasehold; disposing of the dead; simplifying the Immigration Rules; employment law hearing structures; administrative review; museum collections; liability for chancel repair.

Next steps

This is a substantial body of law reform work on which the Commission hopes to start work over the next three years. However, given the uncertain climate in which we are operating, the Commission recognises the need to remain flexible in terms of being able to react to potential new priorities during the course of the Programme.

As such, inclusion in the 13th Programme is not a guarantee that the Commission will be able to take forward work immediately across all areas. This is in no way a reflection of the priority the Commission attaches to individual projects.

Further information

The Law Commission is a non-political independent body, set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.

Since then more than two thirds of its recommendations have been accepted or implemented in whole or in part.